14 Healthy Meal Ideas You Can Make in 20 Minutes

Updated: Mar. 29, 2021

Looking for cheap, healthy meals you can make in a flash? These lunch and dinner recipes are packed with nutrition for just a few dollars or less per serving.

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Okra, Chickpea, and Tomato Rice Bowl.
Courtesy Amy Gorin

Okra, chickpea, and tomato rice bowl

As a registered dietitian and healthy recipe blogger who works from home, I’m always looking for the fast, healthy meal ideas for lunch. So many days, I’ll make a variation of this vegetarian rice dish. It features canned chickpeas, one of the lowest-cost proteins you’ll find. I suggest making it with pre-cooked brown rice and whatever fresh and frozen veggies you have on hand. While I used okra and tomatoes in this recipe, you could just as easily swap for onions and bell peppers, or green beans and carrots.

Avocado Chicken Salad.
Courtesy Madeline Basler

Avocado chicken salad

Talk about healthy meal ideas: “This chicken salad can be made for approximately $3 per serving,” says Madeline Basler, RDN, an integrative nutritionist in Long Island, New York. You get lots of filling protein and fiber from the chicken, beans, nuts, and veggies. Plus, using avocado in place of mayo helps fill you up with heart-healthy fats. Save more money by cooking with these 13 food scraps you never knew you could eat.

Southern Tex Mex Spiced Lentils.
Courtesy Lentils.org

Southern Tex-Mex spiced lentils

“Lentils are plant-protein superstars,” says Toby Amidor, RD, author of The Easy 5-Ingredient Healthy Cookbook and nutrition partner with lentils.org. Indeed, half a cup of cooked lentils is an excellent source of both protein and fiber. “They’re also a good source of iron, folate, and manganese,” says Amidor. For a complete meal, pair these spiced lentils with brown rice, quinoa, or farro—as well as cooked veggies such as onions, mushrooms, or bell peppers.

Italian Flatbread Panini.
Courtesy Amy Gorin

Italian flatbread panini

Who says you can’t eat eggs for any meal of the day? As a vegetarian nutritionist, I consider eggs one of my go-to foods—they’re one of the lowest-cost protein sources out there. And they’re the star of this easy recipe, which is ready in minutes with either a panini press or a cast-iron grill pan. Each sandwich offers more than half a day’s worth of protein, thanks mostly to the eggs and mozzarella. The fresh basil adds fresh flavor—grow your own to cut down on grocery costs. Here are 15 more quick and healthy meals doctors eat every day.

Turmeric Salmon Oatcakes.
Courtesy Maggie Michalczyk

Turmeric salmon oatcakes

Salmon boasts many health benefits, including heart-helping omega-3s. “Eating seafood a couple of times a week does not have to break the bank if you make these turmeric salmon oatcakes,” says Maggie Michalczyk, RD, a dietitian blogger in Chicago. “Filled with satiating protein and heart-healthy fiber from the oats, these salmon cakes are a cheap way to add protein to lunches or dinner. The best part is you probably already have oats in your pantry, and the recipe makes enough cakes for leftovers, so you can stretch that $3 can of salmon further.” Use these other 13 healthy food swaps that save money at the grocery store.

Turkey Cranberry Sandwich.
Courtesy Jenna Braddock

Turkey cranberry sandwich

Who says the turkey and cranberry combo is just for Thanksgiving? “These simple turkey sandwiches are made with easy-to-find ingredients and cover all your nutrition bases—lean protein, veggies, and whole grains—all in one recipe,” says Jenna Braddock, RDN, a sports dietitian blogger at jennabraddock.com. “If goat cheese is out of your budget, use a slice of your favorite cheese instead.”

Zucchini, Bean, and Cheese Burritos.
Courtesy Ann Dunaway Teh

Zucchini, bean, and cheese burritos

Healthy meal ideas for less than a buck? “These burritos are the perfect quick meal that is easy on the wallet and good for your health,” says Ann Dunaway Teh, RDN, and Lesley Baradel, RDN, co-founders of the food blog mymenupal.com. Combine shredded zucchini with refried beans, cheddar, salsa, and whole-grain tortillas. “The burritos are high in fiber and protein, while also being a good source of calcium, vitamin C, and iron,” the nutritionists say.

Vegetable Fried Rice with Almond Teriyaki Sauce.
Courtesy Amy Gorin

Vegetable fried rice with almond teriyaki sauce

Craving takeout? You can whip up this Chinese fried rice recipe in less time—and fewer dollars—than it would take to wait for a delivery to arrive. When I want dinner in minutes, I make this dish, featuring satiating protein from eggs, almond butter, and almonds. It’s made with staples you’re likely to have on hand, including pre-cooked brown rice, garlic, and frozen green beans. You can swap in any frozen veggie for the green beans, such as broccoli or cauliflower.

Ginger Egg Salad.
Courtesy Natalie's Happy Health

Ginger egg salad

“This creamy ginger egg salad is popping with spicy fresh ginger flavor,” says Natalie Knezic, a food blogger at Natalie’s Happy Health. You get plenty of protein from the eggs and Greek yogurt, and tons of flavor from fresh ginger and lemon juice. “It’s perfect in a sandwich or as a side served with veggies,” says Knezic. Add this recipe to your healthy meal ideas list, and check out the best high-protein foods for weight loss.

Lemon Asparagus Pesto Pasta.
Courtesy Chelsea LeBlanc

Lemon asparagus pesto pasta

“What can you make in 20 minutes in one pot?” asks Chelsea LeBlanc, RDN, a dietitian in Nashville. “This lemon asparagus pesto pasta mixes whole-wheat noodles and veggies for a nutritional boost,” she says. Sun-dried tomatoes out of your budget? Replace them with canned or fresh ones. Tomatoes boast the antioxidant lycopene, full of plenty of health-helping benefits. Don’t miss these other 11 smart ways to eat healthy on a super tight budget.

Ginger Lime Jicama and Edamame Street Tacos.
Courtesy Vicki Shanta Retelny

Ginger-lime jicama and edamame street tacos

Street tacos are small enough to eat with one hand—and the best part is you can eat a few per meal. “These simple vegetarian street tacos will keep your waistline and wallet happy, as they are jam-packed with inexpensive plant protein from soybeans and loaded with low-calorie flavors with crunchy jicama, sweet cherry tomatoes, and fresh cilantro,” says Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, author of Total Body Diet for Dummies.

Broccoli Cheddar Mac 'N Cheese.
Courtesy Jessica Penner

Broccoli-cheddar mac and cheese

This recipe has more than double the protein per serving of boxed macaroni and cheese. “Make this homemade version just as quickly as the boxed stuff, with ingredients you probably keep in your house,” says Jessica Penner, RD, a dietitian blogger at smartnutrition.ca. Those staples include broccoli, eggs, and milk.

Easiest Burger Salad.
Courtesy Jessica Cording Nutrition

Easiest burger salad

Fact: Veggies like lettuce, tomato, and cucumber don’t cost much more than a whole-grain bun. So why not turn your hamburger into a salad for one of your healthy meal ideas? “This burger salad puts a healthier spin on burgers and is a creative way to enjoy that flavor you crave while working in plenty of good-for-you veggies,” says Jessica Cording, RD, a dietitian blogger in New York City. Check out these other 25 genius ways to get a healthy lifestyle on a budget.

Peanut Asian Rice Bowl.
Courtesy Judy Barbe

Peanut Asian rice bowl

“Convenience foods get blamed for a lot of health woes,” says Judy Barbe, RD, author of Your 6-Week Guide to LiveBest. “To be sure, there are many that deserve the label. But there are also some great options. I use convenience foods to build a delish and nutritious peanut Asian rice bowl with frozen vegetables, precooked brown rice, and bottled peanut sauce for dinner that’s ready in ten minutes.” These convenience foods make this bowl a must-have for your cheap, healthy meals rotation. After dinner, try these 12 healthy desserts that can actually help you lose weight.

Amy Gorin, RDN, is freelance writer and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.